Red Sox-Rays Preview

The Associated Press

Injuries have played a large role in the Boston Red Sox's underwhelming first half of the season, but they might not have to wait long to get a little healthier.

Jacoby Ellsbury could come off the disabled list Friday night when the Red Sox return from the All-Star break to play the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are among the Red Sox players who have contributed to a combined 23 trips to the disabled list since February. Ellsbury, who batted .321 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs in 2011, has been out since separating his right shoulder April 13 in a collision with Tampa Bay shortstop Reid Brignac.

Along with Ellsbury, the Red Sox (43-43) may get Crawford (wrist and groin) and rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks (hamstring) back soon.

"A little more stability would be good," manager Bobby Valentine said. "I think the guys are coming together. I think if we have some good health, the second half could be exciting. I'm looking forward to it."

Valentine's team enters the second half trailing by 9 1/2 games in the AL East but is only 2 1/2 back for one of the AL's two wild card berths. The Rays (45-41) are only one-half game back of Los Angeles and Baltimore in that race, but 7 1/2 behind New York in the division.

"We've dealt with a lot of adversity, but I think we've handled it pretty well," first baseman Carlos Pena told the team's website. "We definitely feel like we want to be in a better place. But I think we're in a good position anyway, to keep on pressing forward."

Tampa Bay placed 14 players to the disabled list during the first half, its most since 2008. Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce might return over the next couple of weeks, but star third baseman Evan Longoria is still out indefinitely.

"I'm confident that he will be back (before the end of the season)," executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "Hopefully in the next couple weeks, it will be a little more evident of what we can expect."

Jeremy Hellickson (4-5, 3.41 ERA) will try to help Tampa Bay's push to the postseason with another strong outing, but he could use some better run support.

The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits over six innings in Cleveland on July 5 after having his return from the disabled list cut short June 30 when Detroit's Prince Fielder hit a liner off his right leg.

Since beating Boston at Tropicana on May 16, Hellickson is 0-5 with a 4.23 ERA over seven starts and has received a combined 13 runs.

The right-hander, 1-0 with a 4.34 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox this season, gave up one run and five hits over six innings during the lone home matchup.

Boston will counter with Franklin Morales (1-2, 3.50), who had a disappointing performance to end his first half. The left-hander, making his first start against Tampa Bay, was 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his first three starts this season before giving up six runs - all on four home runs - over 3 1-3 innings to New York on Saturday.

The Red Sox split two contests at Tampa Bay from May 16-17.

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